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At the college's fall graduation Monday night, Anita Newhouse said Germanna opens the door to higher education.
By PAMELA GOULD
Germanna Community College President David Sam began Monday night's fall graduation ceremony by asking for a moment of silence for the victims of Friday's school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
"Tonight is a joyful occasion to celebrate the accomplishments and successes of these graduates," Sam said as he stood before hundreds of students in burgundy caps and gowns at the Fredericksburg Expo Center.
"At the same time, we are saddened that terrible violence invaded another sanctuary of learning in Connecticut. Schools should be safe places for teachers to teach and students to learn. All of the children are our children. All of those lost are our loss."
Germanna began holding fall commencement last year because the college had outgrown the Expo Center's capacity for a single graduation in the spring, spokesman Mike Zitz said.
Monday night, Germanna recognized 572 students who earned a total of 942 associate degrees and educational certificates.
Both the keynote speaker and student speaker shared that they never imagined college in their futures.
Anita Newhouse is manager of the college's Welcome and Entry Center at the Daniel Technology Center in Culpeper.
She said she had every excuse imaginable for not pursuing a degree but ultimately was swayed by a friend who pushed her to enroll and suggested she begin with one class per semester.
"She kept telling me I could do it," Newhouse said. "As each semester passed, my confidence increased and I held my head a little higher."
Newhouse, who graduated from Spotsylvania County's Courtland High School, started at Germanna at age 29.
She earned an associate degree in business management and then, with the help of a Chancellor's Fellowship, went on to the University of Mary Washington where she earned a bachelor's degree in leadership and management in 2010.
Newhouse, now 36, has been a Germanna employee since 2006, is married and has two daughters, ages 10 and 15.
The Chancellor's Fellowship is available to two Virginia Community College System employees per year. It covers in-state tuition, mandatory fees, three-quarters of their salary, and up to a one-year leave of absence from their position without any penalty.
As the first in her family to attend college, Newhouse said she feels she's increased the odds that her daughters will follow in her footsteps.
She hopes they will recognize the importance of education and pursue their dreams, not letting anything hold them back.
Student speaker Sarida Saadeh shared a similar story. At age 35 and with seven children to raise, Saadeh never expected her dream of college could be realized.
But two years ago she started on that journey.
She credited Germanna's supportive staff and unique programming with enabling her to make it through.
"With its flexible schedule and its eagerness to see its students succeed, it seemed like a match made in heaven," Saadeh told the Expo Center crowd.
She said she sometimes had "a book in one hand and a thermometer in the other" and at one point thought of giving up.
But then a family crisis jolted her.
She watched as her 17-year-old nephew battled cancer without ever giving up or showing negativity.
He didn't win that battle but left an indelible mark on her.
"I knew after that I had to see my college dream through," she said.
Saadeh is now taking classes at UMW and hopes to become an English teacher.
The Culpeper resident concluded her remarks with words of inspiration from a commencement speech Winston Churchill gave at his prep school in 1941.
"Never give in. Never, never, never, never--in nothing great or small, large or petty. Never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense."
That was her exhortation to her fellow graduates.
"Germanna has given us a bridge to expand our life," she said. "But it is our responsibility to walk over it."
Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972